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New Zealand Maori Win Appeal Hearing in Water Dispute

Dec. 18 (Bloomberg) -- New Zealand’s Maori Council, which represents the nation’s indigenous people, won the right to challenge the government’s plan to sell shares in state-owned energy companies.

The Supreme Court agreed to hear the appeal on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1, according to a posting on the court’s website today. High Court Justice Ronald Young dismissed the Maori challenge on Dec. 11, ruling the courts couldn’t review parliament’s decision to change the status of the companies from state-owned to mixed-ownership models to allow the sale.

New Zealand’s government, which had an operating deficit of NZ$2.87 billion ($2.42 billion) in the four months through October, is cutting non-essential spending and selling assets to speed up a return to surplus. The government forecasts it will raise at least NZ$5 billion over the next three to five years by selling as much as 49 percent of Mighty River Power Ltd., Genesis Power Ltd., Meridian Energy Ltd. as well as coal miner Solid Energy and by reducing its holding in Air New Zealand Ltd.

The Maori Council and groups supporting it claim the asset sales would be unlawful because they ignore outstanding Maori claims to freshwater and geothermal resources.

Prime Minister John Key said on Radio New Zealand on Dec. 12 that Young’s ruling was a “crushing defeat” for the groups opposing the sale and he didn’t think an appeal would change the decision, according to Fairfax NZ News.

The case is Between The New Zealand Maori Council and The Attorney General. 2012/NSSC 115. Supreme Court of New Zealand (Wellington).

To contact the reporter on this story: Joe Schneider in Sydney at jschneider5@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Douglas Wong at dwong19@bloomberg.net

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